Carla Del Ponte: ‘We didn’t achieve anything; I’m angry’

Against tax fraud, the Mafia, and war criminals: Carla Del Ponte fights tirelessly for justice. Keystone

Swiss prosecutor Carla Del Ponte’s international reputation has always been driven by her strong sense of justice and fighting spirit. But the 71-year-old says her efforts to investigate human rights violations and war crimes in Syria have clearly failed.

This content was published on June 5, 2018 - 02:00

Del Ponte was the first guest on a new talk show broadcast by online magazine RepublikExternal link (link in German). Roger de Weck, the former general director of’s parent company, the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, interviewed the illustrious human rights expert from canton Ticino. 

Carla Del Ponte

Her roles have included mafia hunter, Swiss federal prosecutor and investigator on the international tribunal for war crimes in the former Yugoslavia. Most recently, Del Ponte has served as a member of the UN Commission of Inquiry into the violation of human rights and war crimes in Syria.

It was here that the resolute and assertive prosecutor tasted defeat – something that still hurts today. She expressed her frustration in her book, “In the name of the victims”, which is currently in fifth place on the Swiss non-fiction bestseller list. 

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Six years instead of six months

Her UN commission work in Syria would take six to seven months, the federal government told Del Ponte. Instead, it took six years – from 2011 to 2017 – by which time she’d had enough. 

“It was a big disappointment for me as former Chief Prosecutor of the UN Special Tribunal for War Crimes in former Yugoslavia. We have not achieved anything for justice or the victims in Syria. That disappointed me,” she said. 

Asked by de Weck whether she had failed, Del Ponte replied: “Yes, I failed. I have to admit that, unfortunately. I have just one excuse: I was only a member of the commission. If I had been its president, I would have tried to change something.” 

She continued: “As a chief prosecutor, I achieved something by creating justice. But we didn’t achieve anything for Syria, even though we pretended to.” 

Lack of political will 

They tried to get the UN Security Council to create an international criminal court for Syria, continued Del Ponte. “But the Security Council didn’t do this. For Syria, the states don’t want peace, but nobody says this. So, the war and the killing continue. The Syrian state is being completely destroyed.” 

She said she is particularly upset about poisonous gas harming civilians. “In Khan Sheikhun, all indications point to deployment by the Syrian government forces. It makes me angry when I see that Swiss companies have supplied Syria with chemicals that can be used to make Sarin [gas].” 

Del Ponte added that the economics ministryExternal link, which gave the green light, “should be ashamed”. 

“Dual-purpose goods which can be used for peaceful and belligerent purposes cannot be exported in such a case! But that’s politics!” she exclaimed. 

Independent criminal courts 

Del Ponte remains convinced of the benefits of international criminal tribunals. “We need a permanent international judiciary that is completely independent of the political will of the nations.” She says that the UN and its Security Council need urgent reforms. “The UN has never been as weak as it is now.” 

Due to a lack of international action, Del Ponte says she advocates welcoming refugees from Syria, but that she sees “big problems”.

“From the perspective of victims from Syria, Switzerland and the EU countries should take in all the refugees. Because with peace, they would all go back,” she said. “I haven’t heard of anyone who doesn’t want to return.”

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